My Visit To An Amish/Mennonite Village

A couple of weeks ago my brother took me to an Amish/ Mennonite village in Shipshewana, Indiana.  I had never been to one before. 

It is a bit of a tourist-trap, and it is surreal to see many cars whizzing by a horse and buggy, but I learned many impressive lessons there. 

We had a nice buggy ride as well as a nice Amish dinner in a famous restaurant in the area.  I discovered that the restaurant and many of the other stores in town were not actually owned by Amish because they do not want to own things using electricity.  Many Amish worked at the restaurant, and I respect their not wanting to become worldly, for fear of the youth being tempted and distracted by the world.  The Amish are careful to preserve their down-home practical religion and lifestyle).

Buggy Ride

Despite what seems to be a bit hypocritical--in them wanting to live a quiet life away from modern amenities and sometimes profiting from flocks of tourists--I had a wonderful experience there.  In the horse & buggy ride we took, I had the privilege of riding in the front seat next to an older bearded gentleman who reminded me of one of our pioneers, like John Loughborough or Uriah Smith.  I was impressed with his kindness.  I found out he was an Amish pastor as well as a buggy driver.  As I spoke with him, I almost could not hold back the tears as I saw his devotion for God and his fears of the modern world destroying the faith of many.  I told him I am a Seventh-day Adventist and that we also came from a largely farm-based simple heritage and believed in hard work and a simple life in essence.  I asked him what he thought of the strange happenings in hurricanes that we have never seen the likes of before and are breaking records.  He believes we are seeing signs of the end of the world and that Jesus is coming soon.  He spoke with conviction about this.  It was deeply impressive.

He has 10 children and all of them have stayed in the Amish faith and are hard, productive workers.  That really impressed me.  Many of our SDA kids are bored with our faith and leave. Both of my brother's kids no longer are SDA and that has hurt him and his wife. They say that the church is not for them. 

I know some Amish kids leave too, but I would venture that a greater percentage of them stay Amish compared to our kids staying SDA, despite the Amish being even more conservative and strict than we are.  Why is this?

This man had a calm and peaceful and joyful way about him and made me wonder if he was not actually better off staying Amish, at least for now, than becoming SDA with our fights over women's ordination and increasing acceptance of the gay lifestyle and our bringing rock music into church.  I honestly felt that I was almost ashamed of promoting our religion to him because it felt like he was better off where he was, despite them keeping Sunday, eating lots of meat and other doctrinal errors.  He had a practical and simple godliness that many of us are sadly missing.  I felt at home and comfortable with him.  Maybe I am just becoming an old-fashioned 1800's SDA, but they had a practical solidity that many in our generation are missing now.

Godly Modesty

As I talked with him, and as I saw a group of Amish ladies walk by in very modest clothes, yet with tasteful various colors, and they looked happy and clean and what I imagine EGW meant when she talked about good quality, modest and practical dress.  I could not but help being embarrassed about my church. 

I could imagine his being shocked at our threatening to split from the GC because they do not cater to our desire for women's ordination.  He would want nothing to do with it and I cannot say as I blame him.  I had a deep impression that, at least for now, he was better off staying Amish and that God approves of his solid and practical faith, despite his being a Sunday pastor. Maybe I am wrong, but I almost broke down crying and telling him that I wish our church had the practical godliness and modesty his church has. 

Laugh at me all you want, but that is how I felt.  I asked him if any of the people who took a buggy ride with him were disrespectful of him and his faith and he said "No"...even the atheists who ride with him are very respectful.  It made me think of how many SDA's are afraid of the word "peculiar" and are so tired of being different from the world and to be called "the remnant" that in droves many are becoming more ecumenical and ashamed of our distinctive beliefs and heritage.  We want to blend in and be modern and adopt worship practices from the fallen churches and experiment with every new fad that comes along, such as spiritual formation and, in the past, Willow Creek Celebration style worship, etc.

The Meal

I had a further positive impression as we sat down at the restaurant.  Right from the start of the restaurant there were all kinds of signs with Bible texts and religious sayings.  They were unabashedly Christian and had nothing to hide.  They played hymns in the restaurant and even when I was in the bathroom it was so amazing to hear hymns being played.  This may sound funny, but I sat on the toilet a longer time listening to the hymns and being amazed that these people were not ashamed of playing them even in a bathroom (plus, they had bouquets of flowers on the sink in the bathroom and everything was clean and tidy and they made the bathroom a respectful room to be in, which was amazing). 

Don't Hide Our Light Under A Bushel

Yet, despite all the religious signs and hymns being played in the restaurant, crowds of people come there for the home-style food.  It made me wonder why we are sometimes ashamed in our institutions to show our faith strongly.  Several years ago I went to one of our SDA hospitals and was in the waiting room and they were playing secular country and light rock music.  No religious signs around, though there were some SDA magazines mixed with others. The receptionist was wearing earrings too, if I remember right (I might be wrong on that).  The atmosphere certainly was not as beautifully spiritual as the Amish restaurant was.

I expressed my disappointment about the worldly music in the waiting room to my doctor and he agreed with me.  He said the other SDA doctor was in charge of the music and felt he wanted music that would not turn off people.  How sad!  I know the other doctor and like him a lot.  His wife loves classical music and hymns and leads a choir at the nearby SDA school.  Their raised their kids well, with high standards and the kids are in the church, yet in this instance I wish he was not so afraid of showing his colors.  Being at the Amish village and restaurant taught me that people respect the Amish despite them showing their colors and that deeply impressed me.  Sometimes I wonder if many of us SDA's are even losing our colors and identity and just are trying to blend in like chameleons.

True Womanhood

The waitress we had at our table was also deeply impressive.  She was a young lady and was very cheerful and kind.  She had a sunshine about her that was impressive.  She, and the other waitresses, wore modest clean clothes and bonnets. Her spirit, dress and mannerisms were so cheerful and happy that they put to bunk this idea that a patriarchal religion makes women sad, depressed and unhappy with their lives.  I have seen few SDA's as happy as this young lady was--and she was not an older person--she looked like she was in her late teens or early 20's.  She even said she would be praying for us when I told her of our flight from the hurricane.  My brother mentioned on the way home that he wished his sons were happy in our faith and hadn't left it.  While I love my nephews, they are all messed up and confused by the world, in stark contrast to this young lady and the other people we met there.  My brother even admitted that we could learn lots from the Amish.  He said he feels peaceful when he goes there.

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This experience convinced me even more than ever, if I even needed any convincing, that our flirting with women's ordination is not good for our church.  To do so is regressing to the world, rather than progressing to being the strong lights that God wants us to be.  We should not be ashamed of our past and heritage.  It made me think of the following practical EGW passages that use the word "old-fashioned", which so many of our youth and adults are questioning and are ashamed of:

"Her work [the Christian mother’s], if done faithfully in God, will be immortalized.  The votaries of fashion will never see or understand the immortal beauty of that Christian mother’s work, and will sneer at her old-fashioned notions and her plain, unadorned dress; while the Majesty of heaven will write the name of that faithful mother in the book of immortal fame" {AH 238.3}

And this one:

"I was directed to the following scriptures.  Said the angel, “They are to instruct God’s people.” 1 Timothy 2:9, 10: “In like manner also that women adorn themselves in modest apparel, with shamefacedness and sobriety; not with broided hair, or gold, or pearls, or costly array; but (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works.”  1 Peter 3:3-5:  “Whose adorning let it not be that outward adorning of plaiting of the hair and of wearing of gold, or of putting on of apparel; but let it be the hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible, even the ornament of a meek and quiet spirit, which is in the sight of God of great price. For after this manner in the old time the holy women also, ... adorned themselves.”12 {CG 416.1}
Many look upon these injunctions as too old-fashioned to be worthy of notice; but He who gave them to His disciples understood the dangers from the love of dress in our time, and sent to us the note of warning. Will we heed the warning and be wise? {CG 416.2}
Those who are truly seeking to follow Christ will have conscientious scruples in regard to the dress they wear; they will strive to meet the requirements of this injunction [1 Peter 3:3-5] so plainly given by the Lord.14 "{CG 416.3}

And this one, while not mentioning women's ordination, certainly reminds me of the false principles therein where we too often in our educational institutions trust in higher education and modern means of biblical interpretation used by other churches more than the plain words of God:

"It is Satan’s studied plan to clothe sin with garments of light to hide its deformity and make it attractive.  And ministers and people professing righteousness unite with the adversary of souls to help him in his plans.  Never was there a time when every member of the church should feel his responsibility to walk humbly and circumspectly before God as at the present.  Vain philosophy, false creeds, and infidelity are on the increase.  And many who bear the name of Christ’s followers are, through pride of heart, seeking popularity, and are drifting away from the established landmarks.  The plain commands of God in His Word are discarded because they are so plain and old-fashioned, while vain and vague theories attract the mind and please the fancy.  In these scenes of church festivities there is a union with the world that the Word of God does not justify.  Christians and worldlings are united in them " (Con 68.3).

And, finally, it made me ponder more deeply the following well-known quote:

"The Lord desires His servants today to preach the old gospel doctrine, sorrow for sin, repentance, and confession. We want old-fashioned sermons, old-fashioned customs, old-fashioned fathers and mothers in Israel.  The sinner must be labored for, perseveringly, earnestly, wisely, until he shall see that he is a transgressor of God’s law, and shall exercise repentance toward God and faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ"—Manuscript 82, 1894 (Ev 179.5).

So that sums up my trip into Amish country.  It was both humbling, and inspiring.

 

Kennan McGrath lives in Florida, and majored in both History and Religion at Andrews University.